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Netflix Prepares to Screen its Film Originals in French Cinemas, Sparking Industry Protests

·3 min read

Netflix is preparing a week of public screenings of its original movies in select French cinemas in December, Variety has confirmed. The streaming giant is currently working with exhibitors to secure venues around the country.

News of the initiative, which leaked in the French press and was confirmed to Variety by a Netflix spokesperson, has sparked an uproar across the country’s film industry, particularly among independent distributors who have been struggling during the pandemic.

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The planned screenings also come at a pivotal time for the French biz, whose sacrosanct windowing schedule is being revised — an ongoing process that’s been hotly debated by TV channels, exhibitors and streamers which all have conflicting agendas. Under the current windowing regulation, theatrically releasing a film that’s on a platform is banned, and Netflix, like other streaming services, can only access films 36 months after their theatrical release.

Netflix said details of its French screenings were still being discussed, including which movies and the number of screenings. Some titles that are being considered include Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter.”

These films world premiered in competition at Venice. While “Power of the Dog” and “The Hand of God” could have played at the Cannes Film Festival in July, they would only have been able to do so as non-competition titles due to a festival rule requiring every film in competition to have a local release.

In order to organize its December event, Netflix will need to apply for a temporary visa to release each film in theaters. The number of screenings will be limited to six per movie and per city over a maximum duration of seven days.

A spokesperson for France’s powerful National Film Board (CNC) told Variety that Netflix hadn’t yet applied, but would have until two weeks before the planned event to do so. As screenings would be commercial, ticket sales would be levied by the CNC to fund the local industry, as are all other ticket sales. A temporary visa would allow Netflix to completely bypass the country’s windowing rules, the CNC confirmed.

Although the streamer releases select originals in movie theaters in order to qualify for awards, notably in the U.S., the initiative would be a first for Netflix in Europe. It recently held a week of theatrical screenings in South Korea.

DIRE, France’s independent distribution guild which oversees the arthouse distributors behind a number of movies that play at the Cannes Film Festival, issued a letter on Monday saying they were “shocked” to learn of the initiative, which French media has coined the “Netflix festival.”

Distributors are also directing their ire towards exhibitors working with Netflix to secure venues. “Do you realize that the short-term entertainment of your moviegoers is suicide in the medium term for our respective professions?” reads one passage from the letter.

Many distributors in France are still juggling a backlog of movies that weren’t released during the pandemic, when cinemas were shuttered for more than seven months in total. They believe the launch of anticipated Netflix movies during the last quarter of 2021 could make the theatrical landscape even more crowded and competitive.

Current discussions around France’s windowing schedule revolve around a streaming window that follows 12 or 15 months after a film has been released in cinemas, in return for local content investment by the streamers. In a recent interview with Variety, Netflix executive David Kosse said, “Part of the decree has a level of investment in films that have to go [theatrical], and whatever the final interpretation of that is, we’ll abide by it.”

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